Helping a Bipolar Patient Transition to a Healthy Life

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Kevin's sister-in-law lives with bipolar disorder.

My sister-in-law Carey started living with us right after a three-month stay at an inpatient facility that helped her gain control of her bipolar disorder.

Since she moved into our house in February 2012, I think my wife, Diana, and I have worked well together to ease Carey's transition out of a highly structured environment and into a world where she is exposed to daily triggers that can easily throw her right back into a manic or depressed state.

Bipolar disorder is such an unpredictable disease, and that can make caregiving especially tricky. But by taking the following deliberate actions, we were able to help Carey manage the disorder and begin to rebuild her life:

1. Establish Trust

When you're caregiving for someone with bipolar, it's important to establish trust early on. There were a few cases, especially at first, where Carey may have been defensive and interpreted our questions and comments as critical, rather than as an honest effort to raise issues that we needed to address.

But as trust developed and she continued to get better, she came to realize that we had her best interests at heart. Once we established this trust, everything else became so much easier.

2. Manage Expectations

After the first three or four weeks of her living with us, Diana and I recognized the need for some basic ground rules. We felt that laying down a few clear expectations would help give Carey some much-needed structure and stability, while also helping us maintain a certain level of control over the changing dynamics in our household.

It wasn't any magical idea; the goal was simply to establish some simple expectations and to encourage polite but direct conversation. We realized Carey couldn't read our minds. And at the same time, we wanted her to feel free to tell us what we could do-or stop doing-to help her.

3. Get Organized

The first document I made for Carey was a spreadsheet of all of her bills and savings. In her mania, she had spent incredible amounts of money. She'd also racked up a number of hospital and physician charges at several different facilities. We were just trying to organize her finances and determine exactly what her situation was.

It quickly became clear that she owed much more than she had. The natural next step was to lay out a plan for her to settle her obligations and get out of debt. To do that, we knew she needed a job. We helped Carey update her resume so she could find employment, earn an income and get back on her feet financially. Before too long, she found a job and started working at a local hardware store.

Diana describes the gradual realization that her sister had bipolar disorder.

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Apr 15, 2014

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